Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Political Science
Democracy’s Bodily Practices: Equality, Fraternity, and Sodomy in Eighteenth-Century England

During the eighteenth-century, the monarchical and aristocratic world of Western Europe underwent a revolutionary transformation. In place of a hierarchical political order organized around noble lineage, citizens increasingly pledged fidelity to abstract principles such as equality, where "the people" became a new source of sovereignty. My project explores the emergence of democratic political relations of horizontality and the concept of "the people" in eighteenth-century England by attending to the ways in which these principles are not (simply) concepts we have in our heads, but are lived political theories immanent in everyday corporeal practices. I ask how do individuals take up abstract democratic principles in their everyday lives such that they become part of how citizens relate to each other as equals? I focus on two transformative sites of England's emergent public sphere: Masonic Lodges and Molly Houses. Eventually becoming Europe's largest fraternal organization, Freemasonry educated its members in principles of equality and self-government, and did so through theatrical rituals that taught men to love each other as equals. Similarly spaces of socialization, Molly Houses were also places where men could have sex with other men. Their discovery by undercover state agents not only provoked public scrutiny of exclusively fraternal clubs like the masons, but also revealed sexual practices that departed from historically hierarchical and status-bound forms of sex between men. Analyzing men's conduct in these spaces, I examine not only how changes in bodily practices accompanied new democratic relations between men, but also how the abstract principles of equality and "the people" informed new understandings of bodily conduct. As such, my project explores the relations in democracy between the abstraction of horizontal camaraderie, its instantiation in corporeal practices, and the tensions that such practices generate along the lines of gender and sexuality.